Coercive Sterilisations in the Czech Republic
16 September 2004
European Roma Rights Center
League of Human Rights
IQ Roma Service
Clarifying Positions: Coercive Sterilisations of Romani Women in the Czech Republic
Recent days have seen an outbreak of interest on the part of media in the Czech Republic about the theme of coercive sterilisations of Romani women in the Czech Republic. The organisations named above therefore issue herewith public comment on the problem of coercive sterilisations of Romani women in the Czech Republic, and on measures taken by public authorities to date to act on the issue, with the intent of clarifying positions.
From the 1970s until 1990, the Czechoslovak government sterilised Romani women programmatically, as part of policies aimed at reducing the "high, unhealthy" birth rate of Romani women. This policy was decried by the Czechoslovak dissident initiative Charter 77, and documented extensively in the late 1980s by dissidents Zbynek Andrs and Ruben Pellar. Human Rights Watch addressed the issue in a comprehensive report published in 1992 on the situation of Roma in Czechoslovakia, concluding that the practice had ended in mid-1990. A number of cases of coercive sterilisations taking place in 1990 or before then in the Czech part of the former Czechoslovakia have also been recently documented by the ERRC. Criminal complaints filed with Czech and Slovak prosecutors on behalf of sterilised Romani women in each republic were dismissed in 1992 and 1993. No Romani woman sterilised by Czechoslovak authorities has ever received justice or even public recognition of the injustices to which they were systematically subjected under Communism.
During 2003 and 2004, the ERRC and partner organisations in the Czech Republic have undertaken a number of field missions to the Czech Republic to determine whether practices of coercive sterilisation have continued after 1990, and if they were ongoing to the present. The conclusions of this research indicate that there is significant cause for concern that to the present day, Romani women in the Czech Republic have been subjected to coercive sterilisations, and that Romani women are at risk in the Czech Republic of being subjected to sterilisation absent fully informed consent.
During the course of research, researchers found that Romani women have been coercively sterilised in recent years in the Czech Republic. Cases documented include:
- Cases in which consent has reportedly not been provided at all, in either oral or written form, prior to the operation;
- Cases in which consent was secured during delivery or shortly before delivery, during advanced stages of labour, i.e. in circumstances in which the mother is in great pain and/or under intense stress;
- Cases in which consent appears to have been provided (i) on a mistaken understanding of terminology used, (ii) after the provision of apparently manipulative information and/or (iii) absent explanations of consequences and/or possible side effects of sterilisation, or adequate information on alternative methods of contraception;
- Cases in which officials put pressure on Romani women to undergo sterilisation, including through the use of financial incentives or threats to withhold social benefits;
- Cases in which explicit racial motive appears to have played a role during doctor-patient consultations.
Officials in the Czech Republic have acknowledged privately (although not yet publicly) to the ERRC that there is a serious problem of a lack of patients rights culture in the Czech medical community.
Coercive sterilisation is a very serious form of human rights abuse. Coercive sterilisation is a violation of the bodily integrity of the victim and can cause severe psychological and emotional harm. In addition, coercive sterilisation restricts or nullifies the ability of a woman to bear children, and does so without her having been able to participate fully in a decision of such evident import, the consequences of which are in many cases irreversible. In June 2004, the UN Committee Against Torture recommended to the Czech government that it "investigate claims of involuntary sterilisations, using medical and personnel records, and urge the complainants, to the extent possible, to assist in substantiating the allegations".
The ERRC has presented concerns related to the coercive sterilisation of Romani women in the Czech Republic to public authorities on a number of occasions. Most recently, complaints filed on behalf ten victims of the practice were filed with the Office of the Public Defender of Rights ("Ombudsman") last week by the ERRC and local counsel, acting with very significant support by the League of Human Rights and the organisation Life Together. The ten case filed are not the only cases of coercive sterilization of Romani women in the Czech Republic of which we are aware. They are rather ten cases in which a convergence of factors including but not limited to the willingness of the victim to pursue legal measures under present conditions, our independent assessment of the victim's ability to endure difficult legal proceedings, as well as a number of other factors, have converged to make formal complaints possible.
The ten cases presented to the Ombudsman require remedy without delay. In order for justice to be done and to be seen to be done for all victims of these practices however, we believe the nature of the issue is such that it will ultimately require a law establishing (i) recognition that practices of coercive sterilization have been prevalent in the Czech Republic; (ii) procedures (including all relevant safeguards for the safety and privacy of the complainant) specific to the issue of coercive sterilization, under which victims of such practices may come forward and claim due compensation. The organisations named above urge the Czech government to undertake the following:
- Establish an independent commission of inquiry investigating the allegations and complaints of coercive sterilisations. Thoroughly investigate reported cases of coercive sterilisations, and make available – and widely publicised – procedures for women who believe they may have been abusively sterilised to report the issue. These procedures should ensure privacy rights, as well as rights related to effective remedy. Provide justice to all victims of coercive sterilisations, including those coercively sterilised under Communism. Conduct ex officio investigations to ascertain the full extent of coercive sterilisations in the post-Communist period.
- Review the domestic legal order in the Czech Republic to ensure that it is in harmony with international standards in the field of reproductive rights and provides all necessary guarantees that the right of the patient to full and informed consent to procedures undertaken by medical practitioners is respected in all cases.
- Promote a culture of seeking full and informed consent for all relevant medical procedures by providing extensive training to medical professionals and other relevant stakeholders, as well as by conducting information campaigns in relevant media.
- Undertake regular monitoring to ensure that all medical practitioners seek to attain the highest possible standards of consent when undertaking sterilisations and other invasive procedures.
For further information on the issues raised above, please contact:
Claude Cahn (ERRC): (++36 20) 98 36 445
Jiri Kopal (League for Human Rights): (++ 420) 60 87 19 535
Kumar Vishwanathan (Life Together): (++ 420) 77 77 60 191
Katarina Klamkova: (IQ Roma Sevice): (++ 420) 60 88 20 637
The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) is an international public interest law organization engaging in a range of activities aimed at combating anti-Romani racism and human rights abuse of Roma, in particular strategic litigation, international advocacy, research and policy development, and training of Romani activists. For more information about the European Roma Rights Center, visit the ERRC website at http://www.errc.org.
European Roma Rights Center
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Tel.: ++ (36 1) 413 2200
Fax: ++ (36 1) 413 2201
The League of Human Rights is a non-governmental organisation providing free legal and psychological assistance to victims of gross human rights violations, in particular to members of the Roma minority, victims of domestic violence and children. Its mission is to create a future in which the Czech state actively protects the human rights of its citizenry and respects both the spirit and the letter of the international human rights conventions to which it is signatory.
League of Human Rights
602 00 Brno
Tel.: + 420 545 210 446
Fax: + 420 545 240 012
Life Together is a Czech Romani organisation fighting social exclusion and marginalisation in the Ostrava region of the Czech Republic, as well as strengthening Czech-Roma mutual confidence and co-operation.
30. Dubna 3
Tel: ++ 420 77 77 60 191
IQ Roma Service, based in Brno, Czech Republic, is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation active in socially excluded Roma communities. IQ Roma service provides community and social field work, free counseling and law services together with employment support for Roma clients. It also initiates social inclusion strategies for Roma and minority communities on a local level.
IQ Roma Service
602 00 Brno
Tel.: ++ 420 5 492 41 250